Tuesday, July 16, 2024

China’s Xi calls on world powers to help Russia and Ukraine resume direct dialogue

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese President Xi Jinping called on world powers to help Russia and Ukraine resume direct dialogue during a meeting Monday with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Orbán made a surprise visit to China after similar trips last week to Russia and Ukraine to discuss prospects for a peaceful settlement of more than the two-year war. Hungary assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union this month and Orbán has since embarked on a peace mission, which, however, lacks the endorsement of other European leaders.

“China is a key power in creating the conditions for peace in the Russia-Ukraine war,” Orbán wrote on the social media platform X. “This is why I came to meet with President Xi in Beijing, just two months after his official visit to Budapest.”

Orbán is widely seen as having the warmest relations with Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin among European leaders. His visit to Moscow last week drew condemnation from Kyiv and EU officials, who insisted Orbán was not acting on behalf of the whole European bloc.

Their rebuke failed to deter Orbán from extending a similar visit to Beijing, which he called “Peace mission 3.0” in a picture posted on X.

During his meeting with Xi, Orbán described China as a stabilizing force amid global turbulence and praised its “constructive and important” peace initiatives.

China has been promoting its own six-point peace plan, which it issued with Brazil in May. Beijing says it is neutral in the conflict, though in practice it supports Moscow through frequent state visits, growing trade and joint military drills.

While hosting Orbán, Xi called on Russia and Ukraine to cease fire and on other major powers to create an environment conducive to talks. Only when all major powers project “positive energy rather than negative energy” can a cease-fire occur, Xi said, according to CCTV.

Orbán hosted the Chinese leader in Hungary only two months ago as part of a three-country European tour that also included stops in France and Serbia, which unlike the other two is not a member of the EU or NATO.

During the trip, China upgraded its ties with Hungary to an “all-weather, comprehensive strategic partnership,” one of its highest designations for foreign relations that in addition to Hungary applies only to Belarus, Pakistan and Venezuela.

Hungary under Orbán has built substantial political and economic ties with China. The European nation hosts a number of Chinese electric vehicle battery facilities, and in December it announced that Chinese EV manufacturing giant BYD will open its first European EV production factory in the south of the country.

The Hungarian prime minister broadly opposes Western military aid to Ukraine and has blocked, delayed or watered down EU efforts to assist Kyiv and impose sanctions on Moscow over its invasion. Orbán has long argued for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine but without outlining what that might mean for the country’s territorial integrity or future security.

That posture has frustrated Hungary’s EU and NATO allies, who have denounced Russia’s invasion as a breach of international law and a threat to the security of Eastern Europe.

“With Europe trying to increasingly speak with one voice in its relations to China and Russia, Orbán’s unannounced and uncoordinated trips are not helping in signaling or creating a unified European Union with regard to EU-China relations,” said Eva Seiwert, a China foreign policy and security expert with the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

Orbán’s proposals for resolving the war largely correspond with Putin’s interests, Seiwert added, though the Hungarian prime minister might prove helpful in organizing a peace conference in the future.

Standing alongside Orbán last week in Moscow, Putin declared that Russia wouldn’t accept any cease-fire or temporary break in hostilities that would allow Ukraine “to recoup losses, regroup and rearm.”

Putin repeated his demand that Ukraine withdraw its troops from the four regions that Moscow claims to have annexed in 2022 as a condition for any prospective peace talks. Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected that demand, suggesting it is akin to asking Kyiv to withdraw from its own territory.

China meanwhile has spread its influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe in recent years beyond its “no limits” partnership with Moscow. Over the weekend, China held “anti-terror” military drills with Belarus — a key ally of Russia — near the border with Poland. The drills came after last week Belarus joined a regional security organization led by China and Russia.

Orbán will next head to Washington, D.C., where NATO leaders are holding a summit to discuss ways to assure Ukraine of the alliance’s continued support.

“Next stop: Washington,” Orbán posted on his social media account Monday. It was not clear whether he would meet separately with President Joe Biden, or Donald Trump, whose presidential candidacy Orbán openly supports.


Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok, Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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